Ann Zinn Buffum and Sandra Stillman Gartner, project directors, interviewed Judith Chalmer in Winooski, Vermont on November 3, 2005 as part of DAVARâs oral history project.
Judith Chalmer was born on November 4, 1951 in Buffalo, New York. Judith's maternal grandparents came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Her mother was born in New York City and grew up in Greenwich Village in the 1920s. Her father grew up in Germany.
In 1938, the day after Kristallnacht, the Nazis imprisoned her father in Dachau. Fortunately he was released and immediately immigrated to the United States. When WW II began he enlisted in the army, and ironically was posted to Germany. After the war he was able to find his mother and sister who had survived the Holocaust. Judith's father died when she was one year old.
Judith grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Buffalo and attended a reform Temple. When she was a student at the University of Toronto she met and married Bruce Chalmer. After a summer hiking in Vermont, they settled there and Judith finished her undergraduate degree at Goddard College. She and Bruce had three sons, now grown. The couple later divorced.
In the late 1990s, Judith traveled to Amsterdam to meet Emma Poldervaart, who had helped the Chalmer family hide during the war. Thanks to Judith's efforts Emma has been honored with the designation 'righteous gentile' and her story is preserved at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial.
After taking a poetry workshop Judith said, "I'm going to confront this Holocaust history in the family." The result was a book of poetry, "Out of History's Junk Jar: Poems of a Mixed Inheritance", published in 1995 by Time Being Books.
Judith's family story inspired her to collect oral histories from immigrants and refugees in central Vermont. A grant from the state Arts Council in 1999 helped her write and produce a program of music, readings and dance at City Hall in Montpelier.
Judith celebrated her marriage to Lisa Gibbons in September, 2009. Today Judith is the executive director of VSA Arts of Vermont, whose mission is to make the arts accessible to people of all abilities through music, dance, drama and the visual arts.
In 2004 DAVAR: The Vermont Jewish History Project was founded by Ann Buffum and Sandy Gartner. At the time, there was no other collection of Vermont Jewish women's life stories. Over five year period they conducted oral history interviews with 20 Jewish women living in rural and urban Vermont ranging in age from 12 to 96. The women's stories reflect a wide variety of interests, beliefs and occupations including women in government, education, political and social advocacy, farming, business, the arts, homemaking and religion. Some of the women have roots going back to the early Jewish settlers in the state and others have been more recent migrants. The topics they discuss reflect the history of the times: escaping the holocaust, coping with gender discrimination, breaking into politics and medicine, converting to Judaism from another faith, and making contributions to the arts and culture.
This project was made possible in part by major grants from the Aviva Spring Foundation, Vermont Humanities Council, Damon and Marilee Buffum, Vermont Community Fund and many other individuals and organizations who have supported DAVAR through their donations.